Mumbai-based dentist Shibani Kumar is a single mum and has no qualms about it either. “It truly is not the end of the world,” she says. Despite a tumultous split from her then husband, she believes it worked out for the better, for both herself and her son Shlok
Visuals by Akshay Kulkarni
Hair & Makeup by Sachin Gathe
We were dating for nearly a year when we decided to take our relationship to the next level. I was thrilled that things were working out exactly how I’d imagined. I’d met a great guy from a great family, my career was on track, and my parents were happy. What more could I have wanted? We had a big, fat South Indian wedding and I couldn’t have been happier. By the time our first anniversary approached, I was already four months pregnant. And that’s when things began to go south.
My then husband had just joined a new job. He started being a little distant, and I guessed it was probably the pressure of a new job, coupled with being a new dad that made him act that way. Our conversations were kept to the bare minimum. I craved the comfort and affection that everybody does during their pregnancy. To top that, I was diagnosed with hyperemesis which left me perennially exhausted—I was throwing up the whole day almost! So I sought solace in the one person who’s stood by me through thick and thin—my mother.
I think somewhere, the strain of our relationship took its toll on me majorly, and my son arrived almost four weeks prior to my due date. My beautiful, healthy baby boy had changed my life. Those initial few months were the toughest. Breastfeeding, mastitis, sleepless nights and a colicky baby—all of it was slowly getting to me. I felt like he was trying, but somehow he wasn’t around as much as I would’ve liked him to be. So I spent most of my time at my parents house where I had all the help I needed, and could easily catch a break.
A year into Shlok’s life with us, things had somewhat improved. Or so I thought. But I still found him very distracted. He was constantly on his phone, and soon enough, people around us began to notice this disconnect. My best friends urged me to talk to him, but when I did, he always blamed his work pressure—targets, meetings, and what not. I believed him.
By then, I’d pretty much got into the groove of doing things for Shlok by myself. Communication between us, eventually, was next to nothing, and every time I tried to bring it up, it was brushed aside. Internally, I’d never felt more lonely. The guilt of bringing a child into an unhappy marriage was crippling. My parents could see my health slowly deteriorating whenever they video called me. I was so afraid to let them down so I thought “making it work” was my only option.
When I finally learnt that there was someone else involved, that was the final nail in the coffin. I decided to take a stand for myself and my child. Nobody deserved to be treated this way. And I didn’t want to raise my son around his toxic behaviour anymore—we both deserved better. I weighed the pros & cons of both—working through my marriage and ending it, repeatedly. I wanted to be a 110% sure I was doing the right thing. It’s never an easy decision to end a marriage, but there are few things you just shouldn’t have to compromise on, as an individual and especially as a parent. Divorce was something that had always petrified me, and more so about how my parents would react to it when I’d tell them that I wanted and needed to get out of this. But they whole heartedly supported my decision.
I think my parents knew and understood why this was important for me to do, and stood by me like they’ve always done. Knowing they’ve got my back, I knew I could do this. The uncertainty of bringing up a child alone was terrifying, but my son was my strength. I imagined a certain kind of life for the both of us, and that was exactly what I was going to work hard for—to raise him into a strong, kind and honest human being was and will always be my only priority. I’m blessed to have some amazing people in my corner, my friends, my fellow mum-friends who, I think are my true soulmates—they’ve always pepped me up and supported me when I needed most.
Although I didn’t face any backlash as such, there was definitely a lot of ‘think-about-your-child-before-you-do-this’ talk directed at me. I wish people understood that I am always, always thinking about my child only. I must admit, it was hurtful when relatives would ask me to reconcile for Shlok’s sake, despite knowing it would mean going back to a toxic relationship. There have been situations, even now, after all said and done, that people have asked me to rethink my decision. Dealing with such situations can get frustrating. Luckily for me, my parents never felt the need to pressure me on those lines and stood by my decision since day one. And theirs was the only opinion that actually mattered to me.
Being a single mum is literally starting from scratch, and just the idea of it can be scary. You have this newfound sense of freedom again, but at the same time, your responsibilities double as a parent. In my case, I was getting back to work after four years, and often worried about how I’d juggle starting over in my career, and helping Shlok adjust to this big change. But again, I have the best support system in my family and friends. Everything, sort of, just fell into place, very slowly. To be honest, I don’t think anything can prepare you for life after divorce, especially with a child in the picture too, but you’ve been through so much by then, emotionally and mentally, there’s nothing that can deter you. You just have to power through the tough times.
I think I’ve been fortunate enough to not go through anything blatant, yet. But I’ve been worried about school admissions, because the general word seems to be that single parents don’t have it easy but I’m hoping that’s not the case. It also gets slightly daunting when I have to attend functions that involve either of the parents or both together—that’s when it probably stings, but I think with time, it stops affecting you as much.
Fortunately, Shlok hasn’t started questioning me about his dad yet, and it’s something I genuinely dread having to face. But I intend to be completely honest and transparent about things when he’s old enough to understand. I’d be open to answering any questions he may have because he does have every right to know about what exactly happened, and I would never want him to feel responsible in any way. I’m hoping he understands why it was necessary, and why it was probably the best thing to happen to both him and me.
Starting over is probably the most daunting thought you could have, especially when you are responsible for another person too, but, no matter how lonely and isolated you may feel, you’re never alone. There is always help available. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek it. I know it’s not easy to walk away from a marriage, but being stuck in an unhappy or abusive relationship for the sake of your children will cause them more harm than good. Reach out to people, therapists,
counselors—there are many resources available to help and guide you. It’s never too late to start over and it most definitely isn’t the end of the world.
Be brave and do whatever it takes to safeguard your child’s and your well-being. It hasn’t been easy for me honestly, and I miss the extra set of hands on some days. That’s when you need to remind yourself—you’ve been through so much already, and here you are, still standing strong. It’s enough to instill belief in yourself that there’s nothing you cannot overcome, and you’ll get through this too!